In the MEDIA

R.Politik CEO and founder, Tatiana Stanovaya, is regularly quoted by major Russian and international media outlets. She is available for commentary in Russian and English.

All articles published by Tatiana Stanovaya and R.Politik’s other editors and analysts will be included here. 

Commentary for Libération

Présidentielle en Ukraine : l’humoriste Zelensky ne fait pas rire les Russes

Par Veronika Dorman

«La Russie se préparait au scénario selon lequel Porochenko irait jusqu’à tronquer le scrutin pour gagner, ce qui lui permettait de ne pas reconnaître les résultats de l’élection, comme frauduleuse, et de rompre radicalement toutes les relations», analyse la politologue Tatiana Stanovaya, du cabinet d’expertise R.Politik.

Face à la victoire de plus en plus certaine de Zelensky, la Russie garde la même ligne. Si beaucoup d’Ukrainiens le préfèrent au président sortant, car il représente le changement et qu’il ne peut pas être pire que Porochenko, devenu insupportable, au Kremlin on attend de voir. D’autant que le comédien néophyte en politique n’a jamais exposé de programme clair, tout en misant sur une unification de tous les Ukrainiens, par-dessus la fracture traditionnelle Est-Ouest. «Le rapport à Zelensky est ambivalent, poursuit Stanovaya. On ne comprend pas ce qu’il a dans le ventre, son degré d’autonomie, dans quelle mesure il peut s’entendre avec les élites ukrainiennes, quels sont ses projets pour le Donbass, s’il est totalement dépendant de la conjoncture intérieure.»

Tout dépendra donc de la ligne qu’adoptera, s’il est élu, Zelensky. «S’il s’engage à perpétuer la ligne dure de son prédécesseur, en réclamant la Crimée, le Donbass, des compensations, alors la réponse sera dure aussi. Par exemple l’accélération de la distribution de passeports russes aux habitants des régions séparatistes du Donbass», explique Stanovaya. Mais même s’il montre patte blanche et apparaît ouvert à la négociation avec la Russie, jamais il ne pourra mener une politique favorable aux intérêts du Kremlin.

Commentary for POLITICO.EU

Putin’s garbage challenge

Protests over open-air landfills have broken out across Russia.


The “garbage protests,” as they have been dubbed by Russian media, are indicative of a major challenge for the Kremlin — identifying potential hotspots for discontent and resolving conflicts when they emerge — said Tatiana Stanovaya, a commentator for the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.

In many cases, she said, regional governors are wary of entering into dialogue with protesters because they are afraid of being seen as weak, or even sympathizing with opposition groups, who have been dubbed traitors to Russia by Putin and other Kremlin-linked figures.

“Without a radical change in the approach to governing, there will soon be numerous mass protests in Russia’s regions, some of which will be crushed,” said Stanovaya.

“In essence, Russia is moving toward a crisis of Putin’s model of political governance, which is ceasing to function in the face of the growing alienation of the authorities from society.”

R.Politik bulletin in The Wall Street Journal

Comedian Elected President of Ukraine, Exit Polls Show

Vote is a referendum on the nation’s ruling class five years after a pro-Western revolution

Ukrainians elected a comedian with no political experience as president Sunday in a damning verdict on their ruling class five years after a violent pro-Western revolution, exit surveys of voters showed.

For Moscow, Mr. Zelensky is the more palatable choice given Mr. Poroshenko’s militaristic posture toward Russia, said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “But whatever happens, the Kremlin understands there is no chance an overtly Russia-friendly leader in Ukraine will emerge in the near future,” she wrote in a report to clients this month.

Grudges Before Politics: Arrests in Russia Are Increasingly Random

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow center 

By Tatiana Stanovaya

Abyzov’s arrest demonstrates that the prosecution of economic crimes is becoming chaotic, and that politics, which previously loomed large behind high-profile arrests, now appears only after the fact, as a secondary, albeit important, consequence.

Abyzov’s arrest demonstrates that the prosecution of economic crimes is becoming chaotic, and that politics, which previously loomed large behind high-profile arrests, now appears only after the fact, as a secondary, albeit important, consequence.

A fascinating tale is unfolding following the high-profile arrest of the once influential Russian politician and businessman Mikhail Abyzov. Abyzov is known for two things. First of all, he was in Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s team, where he headed the somewhat inconspicuous Ministry for Open Government Affairs. He also played a notable role in the electricity sector, working for its reformer Anatoly Chubais and running his own business in the 1990s. Abyzov had moved to Italy, but was arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on a visit to Moscow.

When Medvedev was keeping the presidential seat warm for Vladimir Putin in 2008–2012, Abyzov staked a lot on Medvedev staying on for a second term as president, and in 2011, he contributed a lot to that scenario, including organizing a public committee in support of Medvedev’s reelection.

Medvedev ultimately served just one presidential term before resuming his role as prime minister under Putin, but he did not forget Abyzov’s support, and created a position especially for him. The Ministry for Open Government Affairs was to serve as a platform providing expertise to the cabinet, but after Putin’s return to the presidency, the cabinet lost virtually all its opportunities to display independent initiative. So the Ministry for Open Government Affairs, just like the rest of the cabinet, was essentially paralyzed.

Abyzov had come under fire from various quarters over the years, including from Sberbank head German Gref, who criticized Abyzov in 2013 for his subpar performance, and from Abyzov’s former boss Chubais. In 2018, the Ministry for Open Government Affairs was liquidated, and the former minister settled outside the country.

Medvedev’s former cabinet minister hasn’t attracted much sympathy from the in-system liberals who were outraged by the arrests of former Kirov region governor Nikita Belykh, former economic development minister Alexei Ulyukayev, and the American investor Michael Calvey. Nor is the liberal opposition crying foul: in fact, Abyzov’s arrest is a rare case of FSB actions finding some understanding among Putin’s critics. Anti-corruption crusader and opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, who published a report into Abyzov’s abuses of power two years ago, says that the government copied its investigation from him.

Since Abyzov clearly generates little sympathy from any corner of the Russian elite, it’s hard to detect political intrigue in his case.

Nor did he fare much better as a businessman. In 2015, he sold his virtually bankrupt engineering company E4 Group to its creditors, who had demanded the repayment of its debt and threatened criminal prosecution. Alfa Bank accused Abyzov of using his public service position to run his business. In March this year, Alfa Bank again asked Abyzov and his partners to pay 33 billion rubles ($500 million).

The current charges publicized by the Investigative Committee relate to the sale of four energy companies. According to Kommersant newspaper, Abyzov’s businesses sold them for 4 billion rubles, while their real value was only 186 million. So there was no shortage of people in the business community who had a gripe with him.

On the surface, Abyzov’s case reveals purely corporate conflicts, wrangling over debts, and using the powerful security services to settle old scores. This may seem like standard practice for Russia, but this time we are talking about a member of the political elite, a former minister, who is likely to know a lot about the shady dealings of some still very powerful figures.

All the differences aside, there is some similarity with the Calvey case: in both cases, the security services have got involved in corporate disputes that have no clear political underpinnings, and have done so without a signal from the president or one of his friends. Only later have these cases taken on a political aspect. Attempts have been made to accuse Calvey of financing the opposition, and a similar accusation may surface in the Abyzov case. Social media and Telegram channels are already rife with detailed stories of Abyzov’s opposition to Putin in 2011, his financial support of the Dozhd opposition television channel, and U.S. citizenship he obtained for his children while living a life of luxury in decadent Europe. All of the above make him an ideal enemy of Putin’s state.

Injecting politics into private disputes may be attributed to the fact that the FSB still has to align itself with Putin, regardless of the personal conflicts it’s called on to resolve—especially if they involve a former minister and a conspicuous representative of the Medvedev government.

The case could be politicized using the well-known template of “patriots against the sellout liberals”: national conservatives detest the in-system liberals and see them as a fifth column and the weakest link in Putin’s system. Suffice to say that Abyzov is accused of creating a criminal enterprise whose members “jeopardized the sustainable economic development and energy security of several regions of the country,” which is punishable by up to twenty years in prison.

The accusations date back to the time when Abyzov served in Medvedev’s cabinet, which inevitably casts a pall over the prime minister himself. The same goes for the circumstances of Abyzov’s arrest. It’s possible that the former minister was invited to return to Moscow by people he believed to be his political protectors. Abyzov was likely in the Russian capital to attend the birthday celebrations of former deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who used to supervise Abyzov’s work in the cabinet.

Dvorkovich is one of the weakest figures in Medvedev’s entourage, but also one of the closest to the prime minister. He makes Medvedev extremely vulnerable, which many in the security services have been trying to exploit.

Medvedev’s circle has suffered so many other blows recently—such as the arrest last year of the wealthy Magomedov brothers, who were close to both the prime minister and Dvorkovich—that they are starting to resemble another stage of Medvedev’s decline. The first was in 2011–2013, when the revanche-minded elite managed to undo almost all of Medvedev’s presidential initiatives. That wave had begun to die down by the end of 2013, when Putin was forced to choose between getting rid of Medvedev or stopping the nationwide humiliation of his former heir by taking him under his wing. He chose the latter, and from 2014, criticism of the Medvedev cabinet waned, and Putin more or less aligned himself with the cabinet.

The current wave targets those working for Medvedev, rather than Medvedev himself. It seems that the security services realize that only the former heir is off limits, and everything around him is fertile ground for asserting ambition and instilling order. While the Magomedov case involved conflicts connected to the security services, Abyzov owed too much to those who are not prepared to forgive debt to those enjoying life abroad while they’re forced to live in a “besieged fortress.”

But Abyzov’s arrest is also important because it demonstrates that the security structures are gradually switching from selective to random persecution. And everyone knows that they collect compromising material on any government official and influential businessman. Prosecution for economic crimes is becoming chaotic, and politics, which previously loomed large behind high-profile arrests, now appears only after the fact, as a secondary, albeit important, consequence.

The End of Kremlin’s Dominance in the Regions

Op-ed, The Moscow Times

Last week’s arrest of former Khabarovsk governor Viktor Ishayev is a sign that the Kremlin is losing influence over the provinces.

The well-publicized arrest of ex-minister Mikhail Abyzov was followed just two days later by a scandalous new arrest on March 28 — this time of the former Khabarovsk governor Viktor Ishayev.

Unlike the situation with Abyzov, everything seems more transparent in Ishayev’s case. Being an important and long-standing politician, who was in charge of Khabarovsk for 18 years (from 1991 to 2009), Ishayev had a long-running conflict with his successor local governor Vyacheslav Shport.

In the last — extremely difficult for the Kremlin — gubernatorial elections, Ishayev backed a candidate outside of the ruling United Russia party, namely the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) party candidate Sergei Furgal, who ultimately not only won but started to appoint people from Ishayev’s team to key posts in the regional administration.

The Kremlin, it appears, had other plans: searches are now being carried out in the offices of the regional administration, fulfilled by Ishayev’speople.

Furgal remained an undesirable candidate for the Kremlin which prompted the siloviki to investigate all major activities linked to Furgal’s supporters, including Ishayev.

Two major episodes linked to Ishayev were found — fraudulent activity in the Khabarovsk forestry sector and real estate machinations concerning Rosneft real estate in Khabarovsk.

Rosneft opted to head the investigation into Ishayev’s work at the company, which he oversaw from 2013 to 2018 as an advisor to Sechin. In other words, Rosneft had to find a way to protect itself from probable political conflict between the Kremlin and Ishayev/Furgal in a way which would not blow the company’s reputation.

While one sector within the Kremlin hopes to put Ishayev behind bars in order to pressure Furgal, Sechin seems to want to take it easy on him, thereby minimizing his own guilt as Ishayev’s schemes happened under his watch.

Maybe that’s why Ishayev was put under home detention avoiding pre-detention prison.

Abyzov, having had a lot of guarantors in the past could not avoid ending up in a cell, as Dmitry Medvedev these days has very limited political influence.

Furgal’s case is a rift typical of regional elites, the kind of squabble the Kremlin was previously relatively effective in stopping thanks to the strength of the ruling party United Russia. Local elite groups would frequently diversify their political investments by supporting the systemic opposition, though this principally concerned the legislative branch.

Anybody backing another candidate against a favorite would normally have the sole aim of strengthening their position for subsequent bargaining, but with United Russia ratings falling this now presents the opportunity for outright victory — made clear by a number of recent gubernatorial campaigns

But this is not limited to one part of the country: it is a new trend in many Russian regions, as a more recent episode in the Irkutsk region proves. Housewife Anna Shchekina was elected mayor of the city of Ust-Ilimsk after running on an LDPR ticket with the support of ex-mayor Anatoly Dubas, a deputy in the regional assembly.

This is a fascinating trend: while previously high-profile regional actors fought to first talk to United Russia, only then turning to the opposition, the situation has now been completely reversed: an investment in the Communist Party or LDPR can bring outright victory over the authorities’ favored candidate, which drastically increases the prospects of opponents of United Russia and creates far better conditions for the defeat of Kremlin candidates at all levels of future regional elections.

An investment in a candidate from the Communist Party or LDPR can bring victory over the authorities’ favored candidate.

The problem is aggravated by the approach of those currently responsible for shaping internal politics: not only is work on incorporating the systemic opposition into the “vertical” not being done, but this is not recognized as harmful.

Instead of working to strengthen the position of the ruling party, the Kremlin is focusing on engineering victories for specific candidates, which is eroding the regime’s institutional foundation.

This is leading to the appearance of a growing army of figures who are unhappy about the new political trends. These include extremely influential players such as Igor Sechin or Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (who, for example, supported Viktor Zimin’s ill-fated bid for re-election as governor in Khakassia last fall).

In other words, Shport’s defeat in Khabarovsk is becoming not only a failure for the Kremlin, but a headache for influential groups with an interest in the region, who are now being forced to protect their interests with whatever means they have at their disposal.

It is not Sechin’s aim to sow discord between new and former governors of the Khabarovsk Territory, but if a problem appears, it’s simpler to solve it using tried and tested methods with the help of the siloviki — officials with ties to law enforcement.

This is the reason for the increasingly chaotic functioning of administrative and power resources, in which each player takes what they need from the state in order to solve their corporate or political problems.

Abyzov’s arrest is irrefutable confirmation of this. The former minister, who was being hunted down by creditors, was arrested over a dubious corporate deal that the FSB is now trying, post factum, to turn into a serious political investigation. Abyzov is now being painted as the organizer of a criminal group that is threatening the “economic development and energy security of several regions.”

The Federation Council and the State Duma, regional governors and legislative bodies, as well as the mayors of major cities, were built into a single, unofficial vertical. The siloviki constructed the vertical without higher political permission and didn’t touch politicians and officials.

Little now remains of this ideal system. Nobody can get through to Putin, and everyone is now on their own: the systemic opposition can be used in order to remove an inept governor, and the FSB to jail a debtor or take revenge for disloyalty.

The number of imprisonments will snowball in the very near future, touching even the highest-ranking officials. A struggle for survival is beginning to emerge.

And crucially, there is no longer a way back to the stability of the 2000s, nor the vertical, leaving Putin with only local manual control — when he is not occupied with geopolitics.

The logic of political processes in Russia has changed, with the motto “that which is not permitted is forbidden” replaced by a new one: “that which is not forbidden is permitted.”

How Russia Took Over Crimea, and Crimea Took Over Putin, The Moscow Times

For Russia, the main consequence of annexing Crimea has been the gradual decline of Putin as the country’s domestic leader.

By Tatiana Stanovaya

Five years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, experts are producing detailed analyses of how the annexation changed Russia and its society.

The country has undoubtedly changed — but no less important is the change Vladimir Putin himself has undergone.

He experienced two crucial jolts to his psyche — the first when he grabbed back power from Medvedev, who was dreaming of a second term as president, and the second when he decided — somewhat unexpectedly, even to himself — to annex Crimea.

Over the past five years, a new political leader has emerged — one who has little in common with the Putin the country had known and loved. Russia may have taken over Crimea, but Crimea, in turn, appears to have swallowed up Putin.

The fact that Vladimir Putin’s regime was based on his own high ratings was no secret: This was a key element of the entire political system.

Putin was essentially able to construct his power vertical on the basis of a direct contract between authority and society, emasculating the Russian elite and prioritizing the state control and repression apparatus above all other political actors, oligarchs, regional elites and political parties.

If by 2008, this construction had reached its peak,  it was severely tested during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency. The worst came in 2013, when Putin’s ratings plummeted to their lowest yet, the economy stuttered and positive trends were noticeably absent.

That year saw the first signs of the regime’s erosion and political depression. The Crimean annexation turned this around, appearing to bring precisely the things that significant swathes of the population expected from their leader: determination, historical justice and national pride. The country had, once again, found its hero.

Soaring post-Crimea approval ratings and the paralysis and eventual collapse of the liberal opposition, however, brought with them their own political dangers.

Putin began to lose touch with the mood in society. The “return” of Crimea created the illusion of indulgence, a carte blanche for the most ambitious geopolitical projects. With time, however, it became apparent that the president represents not his electorate, but a state of his own imagination. After 2014, Putin’s regime began to evolve into something entirely different.

The annexation of Crimea was the first significant foreign policy initiative undertaken without regard for Western reaction. This new approach soon manifested in the Donbass and Syria conflicts, as well as in Russia’s information and cyber policy toward Western countries.

If during his first two terms Putin was motivated primarily with reviving the country by domestic development, after Crimea, he adopted an entirely new mission in no way linked with his country’s social and economic needs. Putin’s course and focus as president subsequently took on a life of its own, at direct odds with the wants of the people.

With his continuing focus on foreign policy, the president moved away from his own political elite, resulting not just in an increasingly detached president, but also a power vacuum within the vertical.

This has resulted in fierce infighting among the elite, as the high-profile arrests of former Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev and senator Rauf Arashukov demonstrated. Here too, we see signs of Putin’s weakness as a political leader.

For Russia, the main consequence of annexing Crimea has been the gradual shriveling of Putin as the country’s domestic leader.

A tightly coiled political vacuum has formed, and it is closely guarded against alternative elements. Vladislav Surkov’s notorious open letter sums it up well: never before has anyone described the lack of ideas and cynicism of Putin’s new Russia with such candor.

The annexation of Crimea allowed the president to cast Russian society as a silent, helpless, impotent mass, forever in debt to the president for bringing the peninsula “home.” Russian society, however, is starting to show that it never signed up for these terms.

The Kremlin Hierarchy Is Fast Decaying, The Moscow Times

A scramble of all against all will define Putin’s last presidential term.

By Tatiana Stanovaya

Anonymous Russian Telegram channels, which over the past year have begun to position themselves as an alternative media source, suddenly last week launched a campaign against Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary.

Normally, this news wouldn’t be a very big deal. But as several credible investigations revealed, a large number of these channels are actually directly connected to the Russian government. This points to the attack against Peskov coming from within.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a conflict occur within the power “hierarchy.” Parliamentary Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the only speaker in Putin’s regime who has managed to remain a prominent public political figure, has seen his place threatened recently as he does not fit into the new model of thinking presented by Kremlin’s domestic policy curators, notably Sergey Kiriyenko and Andrei Tarchuk.

These conflicts illustrate a new reality: an increasing sense of competition within the regime, rather than a carefully designed power vertical. This political scramble will define Putin’s final term.

In Peskov’s case, it seems that Putin’s spokesperson is being attacked for vague comments he made regarding the scandal surrounding Russian senator Rauf Arashukov. Arashukov, 32, was detained in late January during a live parliamentary session and has been charged with several crimes, including two murders.

When asked if Arashukov detention indicates a failure by Gazprom management (Arashukov’s father was an advisor to the head of Mezhregiongaz, a subsidiary of Gazprom), Peskov responded that so far Arushkov has only been accused and “his guilt will have to be proven during the trial.”  

In the eyes of the investigation’s organizers — who managed to enlist Putin’s direct support and mobilize the entire vertical power structure to arrest Arashukov during a session of the federation council — Peskov’s cautious answer could have indicated his doubt in their actions, which led to a heated reaction.

This would be like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claiming that we need to prove in court that Ukrainian sailors violated the Russian border, despite the fact that the violation was unanimously recognized and strongly condemned by all branches of the Russian government.

What Putin so carefully built during his first two terms as president — the notorious power vertical — is gradually beginning to splinter from the inside.

The significance here is not that Peskov was trying to stand up for the Arashukovs (he did not), but that the prosecution’s initiators had dared to strike one of the figures closest to Putin over a carefully made statement.

And this is not an isolated incident — such practices are becoming increasingly widespread.

In St. Petersburg, political operators connected with Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s ‘Chef,’ constantly compete with political consultants selected by the presidential administration. In the recent scandalous regional elections in Primorsky Krai, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev’s political consultants stole the thunder from the political technologists sent by Moscow.

All of these mini-conflicts tell a very important story. First, they demonstrate that high-ranking officials feel uncertain of the future. With the possible exception of a very limited group of people, nobody knows how the country will develop after Putin leaves the presidency. This forces politicians to fight for their current prerogatives so they’ll have more bargaining power when the time comes to divide up spheres of influence.

Security officials and Volodin alike defend the broader powers of the State Duma alongside longtime Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov, who recently published an open letter highlighting the importance of preserving the existing model (and his own role in creating it).

Second, this uncertainty makes it impossible to make mid-term plans, not to mention long-term plans.

“Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow” is the motto by which the Russian bureaucracy and elite have begun to live by.

As the Kremlin’s horizontal overview shrinks, the situation allows for more brash and decisive moves from within the power vertical. This is enhanced by the weakening of arbitration control coming from Putin himself, as he’s grown tired of getting into these minor (by his standards) internal squabbles.

Third, and most importantly, the boundaries of what’s permissible are expanding. You can now arrest a senator during a federation council session even though this simultaneously destroys the reputation of one of the key institutions of any government — including Putin’s — the upper chamber of Parliament.

You can bluntly orchestrate and arrest the foreign head of the investment firm Baring Vostok, one of the oldest private equity firms in Russia, even if it further damages the investment climate of the country.

You can jail a minister if you don’t think he’s prepared to bend to the will of a powerful oil company and the almighty Igor Sechin.

In this new reality, Putin doesn’t have the time to deal with such disputes. He won’t stand up for the accused.

All of this has led to a completely new political climate that marks a return to the atmosphere of the ‘90s. Albeit without the acute criminalization and with a more healthy economic situation though this too is headed towards demise.

What Putin so carefully built during his first two terms as president — the notorious power vertical — is gradually beginning to splinter from the inside, reducing the barriers to entry for a war of everyone against everyone which will ultimately make the regime less uniform and manageable.

Commentary for AFP

Moscow may soon leave the Council of Europe, depriving Russians of what activists call the last hope for justice and crushing efforts to integrate the country into the international rights framework.

Russia has been under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights — overseen by the continent’s top rights organization — for more than 20 years, becoming its biggest purveyor of cases.

But after the 2014 annexation of Crimea ties between Moscow and the Council of Europe reached a crisis point, and Russia may quit the rights body or be suspended this year, activists and observers warn.

“For Vladimir Putin, Council of Europe membership is certainly seen as being part of the civilized world and an exit has always been considered an unwelcome scenario,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, head of R.Politik, a Paris-based analysis firm.

“However there may not be another way out in the current circumstances.”

A Russian departure — dubbed “Ruxit” by the council’s secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland — would have far-reaching consequences.

Campaigners warn of a potential intensification of a clampdown on civil society, worsening abuse of prisoners, a new wave of emigration, and a possible reinstatement of the death penalty.

The article for

Why the Kazakh Experiment Won’t Work in Russia

Tatiana Stanovaya

Unlike Nazarbayev, Putin was not as strongly affected by the death of the Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the ensuing division of power which ended badly for late president’s family. Will Putin even leave behind much that will need protection? It seems that his primary concern will not be family or the family business, but problems of another dimension: what will become of Crimea, Russia’s presence in Syria, and the country’s ability to assert its sovereignty and withstand the confrontation with the U.S. and NATO.

The news of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation as president of Kazakhstan has prompted discussions in neighboring Russia on the future of President Vladimir Putin. The Nazarbayev option — stepping down as president before the end of his term in order to head the security council — has been floated repeatedly in discussions on Putin’s inevitable power handover in 2024, when his term expires. Under this scenario, Putin would occupy a post that allows him to retain the functions of a strategic and geopolitical manager, and to exercise a veto right over the decisions of his successor. The Kazakh experiment is indeed relevant to discussions about Putin’s future, but in an entirely different context.

There is, of course, a certain similarity between what is happening in Kazakhstan and what could happen in Russia. Nazarbayev is no longer president, but he is not going anywhere. As head of the security council, his authority overshadows even the president and the government. He will also retain leadership of the ruling political party, and the lifelong status of Yelbasy: Leader of the Nation.

Nazarbayev can therefore step back from everyday affairs while guaranteeing his own safety and that of his family, and also shielding himself from potential mistakes by his successor. Even if the new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, proves a failure, Nazarbayev has insurance in the form of his daughter Dariga, who is waiting in the wings, having recently been appointed speaker of the Senate, making her second-in-command. Isn’t this what Putin dreams of?

Yet there are several aspects of the Kazakh experiment that make it less appealing to the Russian leader.

Putin and Nazarbayev may have shared a job title, but their roles are very different. Putin is a manager, a geopolitical entrepreneur, an opportunist, but in no way is he the father of the nation. To achieve that he would have to work much harder to be close to the population. Putin has not only distanced himself from human problems, he is visibly disconnected from his people and their needs.

He has also become disengaged from the Russian elites, having merged into one with the state like some kind of agentless machine whose self-preservation and expansion guarantee the well-being of both the people and the elites.

Another important difference is that the Russian leader lacks a crucial attribute of the Kazakh model: family. Nazarbayev has Dariga to step in as president if necessary, along with two other daughters and multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren; a large family that is deeply engrained in the system of authority.

Putin is a lone wolf who divorced his wife several years ago. His daughters sometimes feature in opposition-leaning or Western media, but they are absent from Russian politics. So Putin could never have Nazarbayev’s kind of insurance, which would in any case look somewhat out of place in a modern Russian society.

Therefore, unlike Nazarbayev, Putin was not as strongly affected by the death of the Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the ensuing division of power which ended badly for the late president’s family. Will Putin even leave behind much that will need protection? It seems that his primary concern will not be family or the family business, but problems of another dimension: what will become of Crimea, Russia’s presence in Syria, and the country’s ability to assert its sovereignty and withstand the confrontation with the U.S. and NATO.

If Putin decides that he wants to stay in power, all he needs to do is scrap the law banning presidents from ruling for more than two consecutive terms, and that would not require any lengthy or particularly cumbersome reforms to the system of government. If he wants to step down, as he often says he does, then with loyal people around him, he will find a place and new status for himself in the system. Constitutional reform is inevitable, but Putin has always demonstrated caution in this regard, so even if some redistribution of authority is really planned, it is unlikely to be particularly radical.

The Kremlin will, of course, watch the Kazakh experiment with keen interest and learn from it. But the focus will be not so much on how successful the transition is for Nazarbayev himself, as on the elites’ behavior. How the siloviki fit in to the new configuration, how the business elites build their relationships with the new president, how the transition affects the ruling party, and how the public mood changes.

If anything, Nazarbayev’s resignation could postpone the handover of power in Russia: there is too much discussion right now surrounding Putin’s departure. In the near future, we may see signals that Putin plans to remain in power for as long as possible, but rather than indicating what to expect in reality, these signals will simply be put out there to curtail any expectations of a forthcoming power transition.

Judging by what Putin has said in recent years, there can be no doubt that in his eyes, the Russian political system works just fine without his day-to-day intervention. It’s external observers who like to talk about a system of manual control, in which only the president really knows what is going on. Putin has made it clear on more than one occasion that he sees things differently: there is a strong presidential authority, which is necessary for a country like Russia, there is a constructive, mature opposition, there is a politically responsible elite, and so on. It doesn’t seem that Putin is afraid that everything will collapse without him, so there is no reason for him to embark on radical reforms as a way of guaranteeing his future.

The focus of the Russian president’s attention, therefore, will be not so much on the system, which he believes to be fundamentally sound, as on choosing a successor. Whether that person will be a placeholder acting under the watchful eye of Putin or a full-fledged ruler is a separate issue, but the president is known for generally acting with caution. This means that his departure will be gradual and measured, while the real transition of power may only begin after Putin steps down as president, and will be undertaken by the successor.

There are many options for the inevitable power transition in Russia, but all of them are quite distant from what is happening in Kazakhstan, which has different political traditions, an elite and society with a different structure, and fundamentally different geopolitical conditions and ruling logic. But the process of the transition and its consequences could certainly influence which scenario is chosen in 2024, and could also impact on the choice of successor.

If Putin does decide to step down, there is a greater chance of a provisional new tandemocracy taking shape. Just, like the arrangement from 2008-2012, when Putin sat out a presidential term as prime minister under a trusted presidential seat-warmer, Dmitry Medvedev, in order to respect the constitutional ban on more than two consecutive terms. Only this time, the tandemocracy 2.0 will have learned from previous mistakes.

Commentary for Le Figaro, France

Au Kazakhstan, le précédent de Nazarbaïev inspirera-t-il Poutine?

Par Pierre Avril

ANALYSE – La démission surprise du président kazakh, à un an des élections, pourrait donner à réfléchir au président russe, dont la politique est de plus en plus contestée dans son pays.

En Russie, l’élite politique ne pense qu’à ça mais n’en dit pas un mot. Au Kazakhstan, Noursoultan Nazarbaïev a brisé le tabou. En renonçant formellement au poste de président un an avant les élections, cet autocrate, ancien apparatchik soviétique de 78 ans, organise sa succession et envoie un signal au-delà des seules frontières d’Asie centrale, et ceci jusqu’au Kremlin, où un certain Vladimir Poutine achèvera lui aussi – en 2024 – son mandat de vingt-quatre ans, inférieur de seulement quatre ans à celui de son homologue des steppes. Nazarbaïev a beau avoir prévenu Poutine de son initiative, il prend les devants et crée un précédent dans la traditionnelle sphère d’influence de Moscou.

« Poutine cet autocrate, ancien apparatchik du régime unique, et à rendre ne se voit pas en père de la nation mais plutôt comme un chef de corporation. Ce qu’il suivra surtout dans la transition au Kazakhstan, c’est la réaction des forces de sécurité, du parti dominant (dont Nazarbaïev garde la présidence, NDLR) et celle des oligarques », prévoit Tatiana Stanovaïa, analyste au Centre Carnegie.March 20, éà&ç

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